Does Positive Body Image Even Matter?

Sometimes it feels a bit trivial to focus on body image, self-esteem, size acceptance.
After all, in a world filled with horrifying natural disasters, violent political uprisings,
wars and and the resulting suffering,
how important is positive body image?

In world where people are dying of hunger,
lack of medicine,
lack of clean water,
toxins in the environment,
cancer, malaria, AIDS, etc.,
how important is accepting yourself
at whatever size you happen to be?

In an economy where people all over the world have lost their jobs, their homes, their life savings,
or are struggling to hang onto what they have,
does it really matter whether or not you feel good about your body?

In a world where some girls are
not allowed to go to school,
are forced into sexual slavery,
or work in conditions that wear down
body and soul
who cares if some fortunate women
have the luxury of worrying
about fitting into skinny, tiny  jeans?

What is the point? . . .
Does positive body image even matter? . . .

And then I think about this:

When a female heart is crushed by the overwhelming idea
that her body is somehow flawed and imperfect,
when she believes she is not thin enough
or pretty enough
or young-looking enough,
her mind, her ambition, her skills, her talents, her creativity,
her entire soul is swallowed up
in a pointless, senseless obsession about her body,
instead of a positive focus on her life.

Is your life is controlled by disordered, destructive eating patterns?
Is your health impacted by either lack of exercise or obsessive exercise?
Do you become depressed if a number on the scale is not the one you want it to be?
Do you avoid doing things because of your size or your appearance?
Do you panic because you are getting older every day, and are terrified that you will actually look old?

If this is how you spend even a portion of your life,
then you know how hard it is to care about the bigger issues in the world.

Time is wasted.
Emotional energy is wasted.
Money is wasted.
All because you are chasing after a different body (or face!) than the one you have.
51% of the world are women.
How many are held back, suffer, even die from these “trivial” issues?

When you have positive body image,
when you can practice size acceptance for yourself and others,
when your self-esteem is based on pride about who you are,
and not crushed by shame about who you are not,

then you are free to use all your intelligence, talent and potential

to focus on other, more significant things.

Know that it matters.
Know that you matter.
Because the world could really, truly use more
strong, proud, confident women
of all sizes, shapes, colors and ages!

What do you think: is this topic trivial or important?


17 comments to Does Positive Body Image Even Matter?

  • lorianne

    Thank so much, I need to read something good tonight I’m feeling so down and ya I do sometimes HATE MYSELF” And I really think I speak from what I went though. Just want to thank You again for the beutiful post it’s made me think all over again and why I’m here on this earth and my kids I love ya all.

  • What a beautiful and important message. Thank you for helping us see body image in the global perspective… getting clear on what’s really important!

    • Thank you Harmony. If we can’t change all the terrible situations in the world, at least we can make our little corner of the world a better place. If you can treat yourself with respect,dignity,and love, its so much easier to share your gifts with others.

  • What an incredibly powerful post Elizabeth. I hung on every word.

    Despite all the horrible happenings around the world right now I believe positive body image and self worth is important and in fact more important than ever. It is only when girls and women feel positive about themselves can they ever hope to have a positive impact on their wider world.

    • It is more important than every Julie! women are 51% of the population. Imagine what we could do if each and every one of us was able to go out into the world every day feeling strong, proud, safe and worthy!

  • I believe that when women and girls feel worthless about themselves, it does the world far more harm than just angst over the size of a pair of jeans. It means women are focusing on the size of their body instead of what they are capable of doing with their lives. It means women and girls are being indoctrinated into believing they are worth less than men, and therefore they should leave the “important decisions” up to men. It means that they are not focusing on their hearts and minds, and just what they can do when they put their heart and mind into things. It means they are placing little importance in basic skills, like literacy, maths etc, and think their only position in the world is to be visibly pleasing to others.

    When women are empowered, they will usually focus on improving the world around them. By empowering women and girls, we are empowering the world.

    • Absolutely! It IS so very much more that worrying about our size, because it’s truly about being trained to believe that our size, looks, sex appeal is what makes us valuable.
      So many perfectly wonderful, capable, amazing women & girls are so caught up in the trap of feeling “not good enough” that all the other things in their lives get pushed aside.
      I’ve seen this for 20 years in the classroom: the obsession with looks, size, sexiness dumbing down our girls.
      It overtakes developing talents (whether its artistic, athletic, musical, math genius, whatever) and keeps girls very silent when there are lots of boys in the room.
      And even if they somehow manage to rise above it all, the world is full of things that trigger that nagging self-doubt, long into adulthood. . .
      The more of us who push back and encourage each other to rebel against this, the better!

  • Deeleigh

    This is a great post. I’ve been questioning whether my work in fat acceptance is important lately, and it reminds me that it really does matter.

    • Deeleigh, I had the same questions, which is why I wrote this. Of course your work is important! If you can encourage even a few to change their hearts , or open a door to a new way of thinking, then you’ve done a wonderful thing that may have positive effects you will never even know about. keep going!

  • I love this, it is so true! I am going to share this on my Facebook page

  • Wow, what a powerful post, particularly in light of today’s tragedies. I find this to be so true. I think that body image is so important because it’s about self-image – and if the self isn’t appreciated and loved and valued than it becomes difficult to make it an agent of change.

    • Thank you Ashley! I, like the rest of the world, have been stunned and feeling helpless about the disasters in Japan, and it really left me thinking if the concept of positive body image was kind of a small worry. But like you, I really think that if your self-image is diminished, you cannot really function to the best of your abilities, whether its in your own life or acting as an “agent of change”

  • I think that what is important to note here is that we cannot relate all issues, however seemingly small to the horrors & atrocities that are going on in the rest of the world. There will always be people worse off, there will unfortunately always be heinous crimes committed against people. Whilst this is the case however, this does not diminish what happens to people in their everyday lives. If an issue is important to someone then it is an important issue. 1 in every 4 girls who get anorexia die from the disease, so one cannot say that for these people and their families that it is not an important issue. As a counsellor body image presents itself as a problem to way too many young people which can result not only in eating disorders but severe and debilitating depression. So no I do not believe that anything that can have a profound effect on the lives of women is a trivial matter. Thanks for great post.

    • Thank you for such a wonderful comment. It is true, the large disasters and horrible situations in the larger world do not diminish the personal sufferings of each and every one of us. Everything about my own art can be traced back to years of watching my female students struggle with body image and focus all of their potential on trying to look like a model, the shock of losing a talented student to anorexia, and my own long struggles with eating disorders. It is always a terrible shame that girls or women get caught up in the trap of hating themselves, and your work as a counselor is very much needed!

  • One of my goals is to use some of the energy and thought I expend on food/eating/exercise on other, more “important” issues. When I am too preoccupied with myself, I miss opportunities to help someone else. It is a bit of a luxury for me to worry about body image, as opposed to wondering where my next meal is coming from, or whether I’ll be beaten if I show my face in the town square. It does put things in perspective to hear of all the suffering women all over the world are going through, but that doesn’t mean those who have trouble with body image aren’t suffering too.

    • “When I am too preoccupied with myself, I miss opportunities to help someone else.”
      that is so true Kathy, and it is also true that you miss opportunities for yourself! If one is so miserable and depressed that they cannot function, it is a great loss to that person’s own life, as well as a loss to the world.